by J.D. Davidson
A bill that would expand Ohio’s definition of obstruction of justice in response to protests around the state last summer passed the House Criminal Justice Committee on Thursday but drew sharp criticism from the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
Caucus President Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) said House Bill 22 would increase division between communities and police and create potential for conflict.
“Instead of seeking to heal the rift between our communities and our law enforcement, HB 22 further sows the seeds of fear by attempting to criminalize the right to protest,” West said. “This bill, not to mention similar legislation pending before this body, takes Ohio in the opposite direction of progress. HB 22 will not promote the safety and security of our officers and of individuals exercising their First Amendment rights. It will only create more tension and potential for conflict.”
The bill would expand obstructing justice to include failure to follow a lawful order from a law enforcement officer under certain circumstances. It also would prohibit diverting attention of a law enforcement officer by taunting or striking the officer, throwing an object or substance at an officer or interfering with an officer.
“Events that have transpired over the course of these past several months have demonstrated a necessity to amend our state’s obstruction of justice law that will further protect law enforcement officers and members of the general public,” Reps. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township) and Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) said in sponsor testimony. “Peaceful protests have turned violent when bad actors who are not involved in a police matter begin to taunt, harass and overall interfere with law enforcement officers performing their duties.”
In five hearings, the bill received support from law enforcement groups, along with the state’s prosecuting attorneys association. More than 100 witnesses testified against it. It passed committee on an 8-5 vote.
“Just seven proponents testified in favor of HB 22, while more than 100 opponents spoke up against it. This is a pattern we have seen far too many times from the General Assembly,” West said. “We must start listening to what Ohioans are asking us to do instead of forcing unpopular and dangerous bills through the legislative process over their objections.”
The bill now heads to the full House.
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J.D. Davidson is a reporter at The Center Square. An Ohio native, Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas.
Photo “Rep. Thomas West” by Ohio House of Representatives.